Archive | November, 2014

The Relevance of VUCA and ANTHROPOCENE to Tourism

What do military personnel and hunter-gatherers have in common?

In addition to being highly mobile, often clad with weaponry of some sort, they possess high levels of situation awareness, a nose for danger and an above average capacity for adaptation and improvisation.  Their “fight and flight” responses are on full alert.

Given these capacities, it is not surprising that it was the US military who first named the new conditions in which humanity would have to operate for the remainder of the century and very likely beyond. Traditionally tasked with obtaining “intel” they are adept at reading the signs and joining the dots. As early as 20 years ago, they concluded that established methods of observation, analysis and forecasting were no longer up to the job. They coined yet another anagram to draw our attention to the new state of play suggesting with conviction and accuracy that we now live in a VUCA world in which Volatility, Uncertainty, Complexity and Ambiguity are dominant characteristics (1).

As military men are spared the restrictions of time consuming peer reviews and a drawn out publication process their observations preceded conclusive scientific evidence from biophysical scientists by a few years. But the physical scientists have since caught up in style and have introduced a fancy new term of their own – the Anthropocene; a name that is likely to last much longer in the history books.  It applies to the arrival of a new geological epoch, no less, whose commencement may have started as early as the 1850s when atmospheric concentrations of CO2 and methane began to rise as a result of the introduction of the steam engine and the industrial revolution that followed. It marks a time when human activities have reached such a scale, scope and pace as to alter whole planetary systems. (2) (3)

As is the case with all “phase changes” its early beginnings were imperceptible and potentially reversible at first but really took off in the very early 1950s – coincidentally,  the same time I was born. I mention this not to suggest any causal relationship between the two events (!!!) but to bear personal witness to the fact that it’s unprecedented for any human to be born in one geological epoch and reach the end of their lives in another.  It seems to give a whole new depth of meaning to the term Baby Boomers as it is our generation that is witnessing this profound beginning. It’s also our generation, whose activities during what is known as the Great Acceleration, that kick-started this incipient shift.

The changing of epochs is a geological process that normally takes thousands of years so this unprecedented situation just goes to show that while change may be a constant, the rate at which change changes most certainly is not!

The Great Acceleration refers to the scale, pace and scope of human activity that has occurred since the end of the Second World War – a period during which the earth’s population tripled and GDP expanded some 20-fold.  Owen Gaffney of the International Geosphere-Biosphere Program has created an illuminating slide deck illustrating the most impactful period of human history in terms of our relationship with the biosphere. It’s well worth watching.

 

In order to appreciate the immensity of this shift, I  also encourage you to watch this brief and beautifully crafted video explaining what the Anthropocene means. If you feel you don’t have time, or if you doubt that humankind can have had such an impact, consider this:

  • Humans now move more sediment and rock each year than all the natural processes of erosion –rivers, rain, glaciers, frost.
  • Humans manage 75% of all land outside ice sheets
  • Greenhouse gas concentrations are higher than they have been recorded for just under a million years
  • Humans now take out more nitrogen from the atmosphere than the biosphere does as a whole
  • The average global temperature has increased by just under 1 degree Celsius in one hundred years and is forecast to rise by an equal amount in less than another thirty-five years if business as usual prevails.
  • Human activity is correlated with a lost of 60% of species in that same period.

 

 

So what has this to do with VUCA and hunter gatherers?

1. By entering the Anthropocene we’ve left a short but uniquely stable period in earth’s history – an epoch called the Holocene when the ideal conditions for humans to thrive and multiply emerged and have been sustained. The Holocene began around 12,000 years ago and made it possible for homo sapiens to stop wandering around searching for food and start growing his or her own.

2. Prior to the Holocene, notably for the previous 400,000 years the Earth System had stabilised around a very different pattern characterised by huge swings in temperature (between + and =4 degrees C) that corresponded the arrival and then disappearance of huge ice flows out from the poles. As illustrated below, the last time the earth’s temperature rose significantly higher than today was in a time called Eemian when sea levels were  also 4-6 meters higher than now.

last 800 thousand years

During the past 100,000 years, early man – our hunter-gatherer ancestors – had to put up with huge swings in climate that made survival very difficult. It’s estimated that the population of homo sapiens was reduced to a mere 15,000 fertile individuals and flirted with extinction until a warm period enabled them to start wandering out of East Africa.

 

last 100000 years coloured

3. It was as if Planet Earth was seeking and found a balance or an internal rhythm around 12,000 years ago and average temperature fluctuations have stayed within a boundary of + or – 1 degree until very, very recently. This new stability provided a degree of predictability that humans could observe without which any form of agriculture would have been impossible. Without agriculture, there would be no settlements and without settlements there would be limited exchange of knowledge.. Our current lifestyles, transport infrastructure and agricultural surpluses have all been developed to function under the benign conditions typified by the Holocene and could not be sustained if pre-Holocene conditions were to return.

4. The arrival of the Anthropocene marks the end of that period of stability and predictability – a “regime shift”, ironically,  caused by our success as a species in the Holocene. The military strategists were right – even if they didn’t know of the science. This is not just another “trend” or even another “risk factor” or “threat.”  This change is about as big as it gets and there is simply no aspect of human existence that isn’t going to be affected by it.

5. This doesn’t  have to be a sad story with an unhappy unending. It need not be a Greek tragedy with lots of wailing and lamentations. On the contrary, what’s so very different is that we know so very much about the benign Holocene conditions that we can avoid straying away too far away from that state. Thanks to the work of  Johan Rockstrom et al, we have a dashboard that can be applied to keep humanity operating within safe planetary boundaries. We have all the tools to track our progress and many argue that we have the knowledge and tools to thrive – even as 9 billion people – within those boundaries. More importantly we have the knowledge and tools to regenerate our local environments and ensure tourism is in truth a force for good.

Using those tools and the insights of modernsnakes-and-ladders, however, will take awareness of the challenge (hence the need to wake up now); recognition that we can’t assume someone else will take care of us (hence the need to grow up); and development of a compelling vision of a better way of living together on this most beautiful of planet (hence stepping up and working together to create a better model). It will also require re-thinking virtually everything, including how we are going to move 1.8 billion across international borders safely every year from 2030 onwards.

If we don’t, then sharpen you spears, check out the bows and arrows, hone your foraging skills and make friends with the indigenous peoples of the world. Maybe evolution is like the game “snake and ladders” after all, and we’ll just slide down the snake to climb the ladder again. Unlike the game, however, it’s not about throwing dice but making conscious choices and collectively, co-creatively developing the skills of a hunter gatherer described at the beginning of this essay. Not because we need return to foraging but because we need to thrive in a less stable, more unpredictable world. I am confident that by so doing the outcome will be better and better for more.

 

References

1. The notion of VUCA was introduced by the U.S. Army War College in the late 1990s and took hold after the terrorist attacks on the world trade centre in 2001. See: Kingsinger, P. & Walch, K. (2012 July 9). Living and leading in a VUCA world. Thunderbird University. Retrieved from http://knowledgenetwork.thunderbird.edu/research/2012/07/09/kinsinger-walch-vuca/.

2.  The terms Anthropocene was popularised by Nobel Laureate Paul Crutzen and subsequently a team of scientists have published several papers on the subject. Steffen, Will et al. “The Anthropocene: From Global Change to Planetary Stewardship.” Ambio 40.7 (2011): 739–761. PMC. An application has been made to the Stratigraphy Commission of the Geological Society of London for its formal acceptance.

3. Background history of the proposal for a new epoch http://e360.yale.edu/feature/the_anthropocene_debate__marking_humanitys_impact/2274/

4. Contrary positions toRockstrom
http://thebreakthrough.org/index.php/programs/conservation-and-development/beyond-planetary-boundaries

Revealing the Invisible

A frequent observation made in modern society is

“If you cannot see a problem, you’ll ignore it and if you cannot measure it you won’t manage it.”

NASA has removed both excuses.

Thanks NASA! Just thought I’d share…..

 

A licence to grow or get better – which do you choose?

I’m reblogging this post that is now 2 years sold but still relevant. I need help – does anyone know what steps have been taken to create the funds necessary to Green the Tourism Economy? If not, what “licence to operate” might this economy called tourism expect going forward?

ConsciousTourism

I am grateful to the folks at Coast – One Planet Tourist Network for pointing me to the Dec 11th article in Travel Mole that was published two days before UNWTO launched its campaign celebrating the recording of 1 Billion international trips – see previous post.

My curiosity was piqued and my optimism encouraged by this statement from the Secretary General: “We have an opportunity right now to move away from business as usual policies and to put the right strategies in place to significantly reduce  our emissions.

But after continuing to read the UNWTO press releases officially launching the publication Tourism in the Green Economy, my concerns returned.

The publication builds on the tourism chapter of the 2011 UNWTO/UN Environment Programme (UNEP) Green Economy Report, which finds that an investment of just 0.2% of global GDP per year between now and 2050 would allow the…

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Walking the halls of hope and despair, WTM 2014

World Travel Market 2013, ExCel, London, ExCel, London

 

I confess I have never been wild about the World Travel Market – its central hall was the site of my personal “Road to Damascus” several years ago when I experienced the full extent to which tourism has become an industrial production and consumption machine.

I admit to being overwhelmed by the sheer scale, busyness and sterility of the event where products are pushed and deals done; brochures and media stuffed into plastic bags then discarded; and sustainable clichés fall like feathers from the upper galleries onto the hard selling activity in cubicles on the shop floor.

Walking the central hall this year I felt a visceral inner and outer tussle between despair and hope.

The number of “responsibility” seminars was, encouragingly, greater than ever before but still totally outnumbered and out attended by sessions devoted to trends, technology, social media, and market segments. Within the responsible tourism stream, the same pattern applied. Subjects like “Increasing the local economic impact” and ‘Using responsible travel to drive sales” attracted far more participants than subjects like reducing energy and water. (Note: I learned much from these sessions; applaud and thank organisers, speakers and Jeremy Smith for his excellent distillation: 10 things I learned from WTM 2014 with great links to speaker interviews)

There’s a simple explanation for the topic and attendance bias I suppose – the vast majority of people paid to attend WTM are engaged in marketing and sales. It is a market after all. But that explanation points to an issue that was hardly mentioned– and that’s the G-word: Growth. Tourism succeeds when it grows because we have defined success as more. Because growth is the goal, we allocate resources to the people, technology and processes that produce growth and measure our progress towards sustaining it.

And that leads me back to despair – because until we describe our predicament accurately and delve deeply into the root cause of the challenges we face, as an industry and as humanity, we’ll waste time and scarce resources tinkering at the edges. Our well intended “busyness” will keep thousands employed, produce endless conference fodder, and generate hundreds of checklists, certification bodies, “new” green initiatives, declarations and reports but won’t actually move us off the road to catastrophe.

The deeper problem is that more has become the end and not the means.

Somewhere in the last 60 years, while we’ve been so busy expanding, we’ve made it the responsibility of commerce to grow but not necessarily improve the lives of the community in which it takes place. GDP is used to measure growth in activity not welfare. We’ve become so used to growing and to the benefits that we believe it brings, that we’re literally hooked. We certainly behave like addicts. We seem to need more of it to feel its benefits. We complain and suffer when growth slows or stops. We associate a life without it as being uncomfortable at best and possibly life threatening at worse and we can also be blind to the hurt we cause ourselves and others.

polyp_cartoon_economic_growth1

(c) polyp@polyp.org.uk

As is also the case with addiction, the object of our craving is now causing more harm than good and producing a number of side effects that threaten our collective welfare. Many of these side effects – the pressure on biodiversity, the mistreatment of animals held captive; growth in human trafficking, and social inequity — were rightly included as responsible tourism topics at WTM. But climate change, universally recognized as one the biggest threats to human life and prosperity, was not officially assigned any airtime  this year despite the urgency now communicated by 97%+ of scientists (see Guardian summary). Climate change was not named as a topic in any of the seminar sessions. Yet climate change is surely a major and critically important symptom of an organ (in this case, our life supporting ecosphere), adjusting to the effects of an addiction afflicting its dominant species.

Addicts, we know, spend increasing amounts of time as their disease progresses, denying and concealing their dependence. The absence of sessions at WTM in which neither climate change nor the negative impacts of growth were officially discussed, and the complete absence of their mention in the brochure used to launch the “New” 10YFP Programme on Sustainable Tourism all signal avoidance behaviours classically used by addicts not yet ready for rehabilitation.

Finally, this statement from the Director of Sustainable Development of the UNWTO in the only article labeled “Responsible Tourism” in WTM Business,  shows what really matters:

“The tourism sector is embracing responsible tourism not as an option, but as a condition for its continuous growth

Forgive me if the thought of sterilized needles and methadone replacement comes to mind.

So What’s Wrong with Growth?

The problem is fundamentally a semantic one. The verb “to grow” has three meanings:

miriam webster

Over the course of time, we in tourism have assumed that more of an entity or state is better than equal or less over time. Look at any tourism strategy from the smallest of Convention and Visitor Bureaus, National Tourist Boards or even the UNWTO and you will see that the goal is to grow tourism by a percentage increase over its performance the previous year. Performance is measured in the trips, people, and their spending at the host destination. In short, size matters and the shared meaning of growth is MORE.

So what’s wrong with that?

Well, there wasn’t much wrong with that at all when we started out some 60 years ago deploying mass transport to enable working men and women and their families have a holiday, visit parts of their country or venture to foreign lands. The tourism “industry” sensibly applied what had proved to be a very proficient method of making and selling things – an industrial system of production and consumption and, as a consequence, during the span of one human lifetime, tourism became a global economic sector of enormous importance contributing 10% of GDP and keeping over 250 million people in a job.

Since World War 2, tourism has brought benefits to virtually every country; lifted people out of poverty through accessible employment; created an untold number of entrepreneurial opportunities; enabled millions to enjoy face-to-face encounters with people of very different cultures; help fill public treasuries with useful tax dollars that were applied to education, health care and other social services; supported the development of important infrastructure and provided billions of dollars in foreign exchange and investment capital.

Phew!  Surely that’s an accomplishment to be proud of?

Yes, it is. But it’s not the complete or honest story. It ignores the inefficiencies and inequities built into the industrial system that only become apparent over time. So duplicating that rate of growth going forward may not bring more “good” with it. There are reasons why continuing to grow bigger is neither desirable nor at all likely. Let’s tackle the issue of likelihood first.

It will be difficult to sustain such growth forever because the operating model on which it was based was designed in and for a different world. The conditions that ensured its success are fast disappearing.

The model flourished when energy was cheaply available from abundant, accessible sources of fossil fuel; when there were literally hundreds of new, virtually empty and exotic places to explore and cultures to get to know; when host communities needed cash and investment to play in a global cash economy; when there were vast quantities of resources, capital and know-how to deploy with limited debt to be paid; and when huge numbers of people were determined to put two decades of war behind them and improve their material well-being.

Continuing to grow in size is not desirable now simply because the world is full (1), and because the industrial model of production and consumption contains within it certain characteristics and flaws that worsen with time. For the purpose of this post, I’ll concentrate on just four of the biggest:

  1. Tourism generates wastes and uses resources at a rate that can be accommodated in its early stage of development but not sustained after it has reached a certain scale and pace of growth. Mitigating the negative effects of climate change (most of which will hurt tourism) now requires that all economies drastically reduce their production of COto zero by 2050. That is because the atmosphere can only absorb a finite amount of CO2 IF we wish to keep average temperatures at a level in which human society can flourish (see previous posts on subject here and here).
  2. Tourism is on a course that would increase its carbon contribution by 150% at precisely the time when it needs to focus on decreasing its absolute contribution to zero! Even if all ground operations became carbon-negative, the airline sector – vital to international tourism and responsible for 40% of tourism emissions now – will be a major contributor to the global total by 2050 if current forecast/ growth rates are achieved. Despite all the talk about being responsible, not a single nation has a carbon mitigation strategy for the tourism sector (2)
  3. With a human population expected to increase by a further 2.5 billion between now and 2050, tourism will also face increasing competition for land, water and food in areas where – thanks to the effects of climate change – public funds may be unable to cope with the basic needs of resident populations. According to UNEP (3), mass tourism leaves an average of 5 cents in the host country for every $1 spent by visitors.  As the costs of mitigation and adaptation to climate change and the demands of a burgeoning visitor population rise, where will these hosts find the resources to supply adequate waste management, security, health and transportation services in addition to meeting the needs of their own growing population?
  4. cheap travelMass tourism has a tendency to produce diminishing returns to investors and host communities over time. Tourism demand is highly volatile, seasonal and beyond the control of host destinations. When demand ebbs there is a tendency to discount and that response, combined with a lack of control over capacity, leads to a general fall in income per transaction. Price discounting necessitates either rigorous cost cutting or vertical and horizontal integration which can exacerbate a tendency for service levels and customer satisfaction to also decline.

 

What can we do?  There are two answers and the clue lies in the second and third definition of the verb “to grow.”

First, we re-define “growth” as better and second, we grow up!

Re-defining Growth As “Better and better for more”
Let’s shift our focus to a more inspiring end goal – enabling all stakeholders and especially the communities that welcome guests to flourish; in other words express and exude health and vitality; be resilient; open to change and qualitative development. In short thrive and prosper and become all they can be.

Let’s make sure the growth we get is:

  • honest (acknowledges and deals with costs and harm as enthusiastically as it promotes the benefits);
  • fair (ensures the benefits accrue to all stakeholders equitably); and
  • natural (is life enhancing and in harmony with the natural rhythms of life).

Let’s make sure that what host communities deliver and what guests experience constitute an antidote to the types of uneconomic growth that prevail today in many parts of the world:

  • jobless growth, where the economy grows but produces few jobs or ones that are poorly paid and erode the dignity and health of the worker;
  • ruthless growth, where the proceeds only benefit speculators,  and the rich or powerful:
  • voiceless growth, where economic growth is not accompanied by extensions of democracy or empowerment and where residents are deprived as say in who and how many guests they welcome; and
  • futureless growth, where the present generation squanders resources needed by future generations.

Note though: The challenge when discussing tourism from a global perspective is that it ignores the enormous variability in circumstances between destinations. Volume growth may be needed in many destinations where there is over capacity brought about by a “build it and they will come” approach. Conscious Travel is not only about generating higher yields but empowering hosts communities to make informed decisions about how much, what kind, where and when. In some instances, more visitors are needed to ensure vitality and resilience.

We Grow Up!
Growing from an adolescent to an adult requires understanding that the world doesn’t revolve around you personally; that you are a member of a community on which you depend and to which you are obliged. It’s a reciprocal relationship of respect and caring. It also recognizes that there are limits. You neither can nor wish to keep growing bigger. You expect to change as you pass into adulthood – both physically and emotionally. You look forward to exploring how you can express your uniqueness within the constraints set by your culture and environment. While sometimes you’ll kick against those constraints and may even succeed in redefining them; other times, you’ll see that they are useful and stimulate more creativity and innovation.

You stop growing bigger when you grow into adulthood – you mature; you start to want to express yourself; to become more, to stretch – but qualitatively not quantitatively. You want to contribute to a larger whole. You want to be the best you can be. You strive to go where no man has gone before. That yearning diminishes much more slowly than your body ages – take that from me!!

And this process is totally natural!

In nature, nothing grows forever except perhaps the universe itself,  (it’s been expanding outwards at a phenomenal rate for 13.7 billion years).

There are no straight lines in nature. What looks like a straight line in nature is simply a part of a fractal curve that appears throughout life itself. It has what sounds like a mysterious name – it’s called a Sigmoid curve. But Sigmoid is just Greek for the letter S and the curve describes the letter lying on its back and illustrates a natural cycle that pervades all life.

Butler TALC copy

Thanks to Dr. Butler, the tourism community is familiar with the Sigmoid Curve even though they aren’t recognized as such. Dr Butler introduced the most enduring model of tourism destination development but, while he correctly named it as the Tourism Area Life Cycle Model (TALC), he based it on a concept derived from the industrial model of production and consumption – the life cycle of products. It’s an indication of the author’s modesty, that Dr. Butler is surprised by its popularity, potency and durability (4).

The TALC model is applicable not just to individual resorts – each of which sits at its own unique point on the curve – but to mass industrial tourism as a whole. If you define success as volume – as opposed to net benefit – you’ll place mass tourism between stages 3 and 4 on the TALC curve. But if measured in terms of its net benefit then we’re most definitely at or approaching stage 4.

 

Evidence for Hope

We don’t need to tear down the old model. The alternative model is emerging all around unwto-report-cover-217x300us. Both need to co-exist while the alternative grows in strength and complexity. Several pioneers of a new, less harmful, more beneficial model were acknowledged and applauded by receiving Responsible Tourism Awards at WTM and many others attended and contributed to the sessions that accompanied the trading on the exhibit floor. At the WTM, the UNWTO and Adventure Travel Trade Association (ATTA) launched their jointly produced Global Report on Adventure Tourism  in which ATTA revealed from its Industry Snapshot 2014 that an estimated  65.6% of the total trip cost of an adventure package remains in the destination(s) visited – a vast improvement on the 5% estimated by UNEP for mass tourism. Proof that there is huge potential to improve the net benefit to host destinations.

We don’t need any more divisions; no more “them” and “us”. Those of us who have been working in all aspects of the new, whether it be in sustainable, responsible, geo, fairtrade, or social tourism; whether our focus is on environment or social issues; or whether we’ve been involved for years or minutes, need now to join hands. Some can focus on building inspiring working prototypes of the new. Others can build bridges with the keepers of the old until it makes sense for them to move.

nature's timeless principleWhat we do need is coherent thinking as a “we” tied together by a common vision for humanity that can thrive and flourish on a living planet.

What we do need is to understand nature’s timeless principles to recognise when it’s time for transformation, maturation, evolution (5).

We also need courage to undertake a fearless inventory and speak the truth. It was Chris Doyle’s article for the WTM that persuaded me to attend and I was honoured to join him in the two lively and provocative sessions organized by the Adventure Travel Trade Association (ATTA).

This is the most exciting time to be alive. It’s the very first time in human history when individual humans have the capacity to be aware that their personal choices do matter in the evolutionary trajectory of a species, no less!

No wonder we’re being called to stop growing in size but in wisdom, insight, maturity and compassion. Because tourism plays such a direct role in connecting people to each other in places where they can experience the power and beauty of nature  and discover their true identity, we must step up into a much grander sense of purpose.

More of us must engage in the task of building a better model – shifting from one S curve to another.

It all makes that brightly lit central hallway in a box called Excel seem rather unappealing, don’t you think? There’s a mysterious and amazingly beautiful world of living beings out there in the sunshine by the river – let’s join them there and flourish.

References and Reading
(1) Economics in a Full World, Herman Daly, Scintific American September 2005. Download here 

(2) Climate Change Implications for Tourism University of Cambridge Download pdf here

(3) UNEP, Negative Economic Impacts of Tourism – available online here

(4) Tourism Area Life Cycle R.W. Butler,  in Contemporary Tourism Reviews, Goodfellow Publishers, Oxford, 2011

(5) See Giles Hutchins: Transformational Times Call For Transformational Minds.

Personal Note: This post is the first in a series of reflections about how tourism can flourish in a post carbon, post growth society. The “book,” which so many of my dear supporters have said I must write, is finally in the making. It will be so much better if you add your comments to these blogs, share and encourage others. No individual, no enterprise, no community can go it alone. The stakes are too high.

RELATED POSTS 

When will tourism industry start talking sensibly about tourism growth? Author Jeremy Smith, founder Travindy. Another call for this discussion to take place.

WTM 2015 Responsible Tourism Day – Shock and Awe
One year later in 2015, resistance to contemplating another model i.e. one that does not deed on volume growth acme very evident.

DO UNWTO Figues mislead?

Tourism What’s the Point ? (just in case we have forgotten)


 


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